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A Short History of Sarawak

SARAWAK constabulary Sikh policemen with Supt Bill Sochon in Miri just before the War.

INSPECTOR Zaidell (3rd right) during the War.

VYNER at his coronation as 3rd Rajah of Sarawak.

RAJAH Vyner and his officers during an official visit by a dignitary just before the War. His wife Sylvia (4th from left) and Datu Imam (7th left) are behind him.

THE Sarawak Constabulary Band.

ONE of the Sarawak Constabulary’s pioneering Filipino musicians was Felipe Oniza. Allas the composer of the first Sarawak National Anthem “Fair Land Sarawak” which was adopted by the colonial government and the Sarawak Constabulary’s theme song “Tanjung Kubu”.

Raymond Allas, Felipe’s second son, said that soon after the war Chater asked his father to compose a song for the Rajah (Charles Vyner Brooke) as a farewell present. “With that my father composed a tune which became the Sarawak National Anthem,” he said.

“My father could play any musical instrument, the trombone, trumpet,euphonium (bass saxhorn), violin, guitar, accordion and piano to name a few. But he refused to allow any of us to become musicians.” Felipe was recruited from Central Luzon by Vyner, the Third Rajah of Sarawak, as a musician in the Sarawak Rangers and served under the last Filipino bandmaster before moving to Kampung Seratau where he settled with a Bidayuh wife.

After his stint as a musician Allas became Rajah Vyner’s personal cameraman—he took the historic picture of the signing of the Cession of Sarawak to Great Britain document on July 1, 1946. W.J Chater in his book Sarawak Long Ago states after the military unit comprising Filipino musicians was disbanded in 1932, some of its members joined the Sarawak Constabulary. “Several of its members returned to their native land but some remained and joined the newly formed Sarawak constabulary and helped to form the nucleus of the parttime band under the direction of the last bandmaster, Pedro Salosa’s (sic) son Gregory.” For Pedro Salosa’s (sic) loyalty, the family was given Sarawak citizenship. Pedro’s Gregory who received his papers in 1939, joined the Constabulary as an Inspector—the first Filipino officer– and served up till the war.

After the war, Felipe continued to work in the Sarawak Constabulary and was seconded as a cameraman in the Sarawak Constabulary’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID). After he retired in 1952, Felipe formed a band which performed at the first Kuching hotel of standard, the Aurora as well as functions at the residences of VIPs before he passed away in 1974. Later Filipe Allas married into the Bidayuh community and settled in Seratau and became friends with “Pengarah” Harry James. During the War both Harry and Allas worked with the Japanese to enable them to become peacekeepers. Seratau resident Edward Siet,85, said in an interview: “Sometimes the Japanese visited our village and if not for Harry James, they would have created havoc. Our people were so afraid of them that they sent their families, especially womenfolk, to the nearby jungles to avoid meeting the Japanese.

“If they had to, they would only return to the village at night when it was safe enough. Pengarah Harry wielded power and even the Japanese had to bow whenever they came across him.” The First Bidayuh Constabulary officer Another influential Seratau resident was Dublin Siju who joined the Constabulary as a recruit before the war and rose to the rank of DSP after the War. After the cession of Sarawak to Great Britain the British started recruiting locals into the Constabulary. Though the educational level of the natives in particular was low, the British were desperate to rebuild the depleted police force.

The Sarawak Rangers who were among the region’s best jungle trackers was effectively used, among other things, to quell riot in Miri in 1923. Their last expedition was against Asun the rebel at Entabai in the Kanowit district in 1932. Due to the World Slump, Rajah Vyner decided to disband the Sarawak Rangers on December 31, 1931. When news that the Sarawak Rangers had been demobilised had spread, only handful of Rangers agreed to join the police. Large numbers of loyal Rangers to return to the longhouses and villages.

On January 1, 1932 Vyner amalgamated the two forces–the Sarawak Rangers and the Sarawak Police—and their strength was reduced to 859—and on February 29, 1932 the combined force was officially called the “Sarawak Constabulary”.

Major H.C. Adams from the North Borneo Armed Constabulary (Sabah) was invited to restructure the new Sarawak police constabulary. The Rajah also appointed a retired Police Commissioner from the Federated Malay States (now peninsular Malaysia) C. Hannigan to become advisor. After the formation of the Sarawak constabulary in 1932, the officer in charge was called the “Commissioner of Sarawak Constabulary”. The same year L.N. Reynolds was appointed as the first Commissioner of the Sarawak Constabulary, a post he would hold till 1939 before he was asked to leave. He was replaced by his deputy W.H. Kelley.

The Sarawak Administrative Report (1932) states that by December 31, 1932 the number of personnel was reduced to 786 officers and men including five European; 394 Malays, 203 Iban, 118 Sikhs, 21 Bidayuh, 19 Melanau, 14 Indian Muslims, five Javanese, four Chinese, two Filipino and one Kayan. To complement the Sarawak Constabulary the Brooke government formed a unit called “Village Constables” to look after security in the rural areas.

By 1938 the Village Constables unit, which proved to be a failure, was disbanded and absorbed into the Constabulary. In 1940 the 956-strong Sarawak Constabulary was a shadow of its old self. It was divided into two sections— Force “A” comprising 854 officers and men and Force “B”, 102 personnel, it could hardly serve to protect the people in the event of a war.

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